One would think that on the weekend of the 70th anniversary of the invasion of Normandy – a day on which almost 10,000 fathers, brothers, and sons of our greatest generation were killed as they began the liberation of Europe – the Republican political establishment would at least press “pause” on partisan attacks that use our men and women in uniform as political pawns. Even Vladimir Putin, bogeyman du jour, paused his nationalist rants to recognize the occasion.
Rather than stopping to consider those who have made the ultimate sacrifice, supporters of New York State Republican gubernatorial candidate Robert Astorino launched an ad that used the graves of U.S. soldiers as a backdrop and urged viewers “to honor their sacrifice” and “remove tyrants,” with the latter message plastered over pictures of Democratic governor Andrew Cuomo. Instead of commemorating an epic struggle between fundamentally good and evil forces, Astorino’s supporters ran with the much simpler message that Cuomo is a modern-day Mussolini or Hitler.
This is, however, not an isolated event. The GOP establishment – both elected members and their media arms – have been on a roll of politicking with matters of national security of late. This circus detracts from critical policy discussions and legitimate critiques.
As with anything the Obama administration says or does, a political firestorm has erupted surrounding the return of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl from Afghanistan earlier this week. While there are legitimate debates to have over how the White House prosecutes the war in Afghanistan, handles detainees at Guantánamo, and works with Congress, the tenor of the attacks has been outwardly partisan and at times disrespectful of our men and women in uniform.
With regards to the Bergdahl situation, Fox News commentator Kimberly Guilfoyle argued on air that Bowe Bergdahl was lucky that his rescuers didn’t bring him home “in a body bag.” The insinuation – even the mere suggestion – that members of the U.S. military would deliberately murder their own and betray the oaths they took to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States is so offensive that it defies words.
In perhaps the crown jewel of the week’s insensitive behavior, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), after noting that Hillary Clinton’s “involvement” with Benghazi should “disqualify” her from being president, had the extraordinarily poor taste to say on Friday to the Republican Party of Texas Conference: “Mr. President, let’s set up a new trade. Instead of five Taliban, let’s trade five Democrats.”
Paul’s lack of deference cheapens the lives of Americans in captivity by “laughing” away the importance of bringing home American personnel who have endured brutal conditions in Korea, Vietnam, and Afghanistan. The notion that the Commander-in-Chief’s responsibility to “leave no man behind” is somehow a joke – or in any way conditional – truly does disqualify someone from being president.
Perhaps the saddest thing about all this damning rhetoric is that these are the logical conclusions of a broken system rather than a particularly bad but isolated day for Republican messaging. From calling the President of the United States a “Socialistic dictator” and the “Kommandant-in-Chef [sic],” to the never-ending part-kangaroo court, part-fundraising circus surrounding the tragic events in Benghazi, to the continued narrative that President Obama hates or even “wants out” of America, the far right simply cannot stop itself from spouting vitriolic and divisive rhetoric.
There was a time when national security was the exclusive purview of the Republican Party, and any attempts by Democrats — no matter their credentials — to penetrate that sphere were either squashed by flagrant politicking or flopped on account of disastrous PR blunders. Conventional wisdom simply insisted that Democrats were “soft” and Republicans were “tough.”
However, nothing drives home the resurgence of a progressive foreign and defense policy more than the insensitive, disrespectful, and frankly out-of-touch messaging coming from the loudest voices on the right. The Republican establishment has apparently lost its respect for the office of the presidency and the United States military, and it is up to moderate voices to correct the gross excesses of the day.
There can be genuine disagreements over our military and national security, including on the subject of recent events in Afghanistan. Likewise, politics – even partisan politics – are an important part of the American political system. But we must remember those brave souls at Normandy gave their lives 70 years ago this week for the principles and values that sustain that system, and their efforts will be in vain if it continues down a track of such perversion.
However disenchanted members of the political minority may be with the current state of American politics, language of disrespect to those who serve and have served shown by all of these radical individuals crosses the line. It is our responsibility to voice our collective outrage and demand accountability for these ugly statements purely and poorly aimed at producing partisan gains.
Dr. Mark R. Jacobson is a Senior Advisor to the Truman National Security Project and has previously worked on Capitol Hill and at the Department of Defense. From 2009-11 he served as the Deputy NATO Representative in Kabul, Afghanistan. Views expressed are his own.
Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr
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